The Train Halt with No NameA Most Curiously Named Railway Halt in Sri Lanka
Train Halt No 1
Gyan C A Fernando
Cartoon by N. Senthilkumaran
Many crowded trains pass through this station daily on the busy Coast Line of Sri Lanka to and from the capital, Colombo. Of the thousands of passengers who pass this rail halt not many know how it got its curious name.
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How this curious name came about is now partly anecdotal but the story is totally plausible and the underlying sentiments understandable; that is if you understand the village mentality of Sri Lanka. What is difficult to understand is why the railway authorities decided that a railway halt was needed here in the first place. If a train halt was needed, then the location was all wrong. And so were the people!
Train Halt No 1 is located between the railway stations of Wadduwa and Kalutara North on the Coast Line. Both Wadduwa and Kalutara North are sizeable towns. In between these two towns and on the Galle Road, are the villages of Waskaduwa and Pothupitiya close to a road junction known as Wadiyemankada.
For reasons that are now lost in time, the railway authorities, in the 1900s, decided to open a railway halt approximately halfway between Waskaduwa and Pothupitiya, no doubt with the good intention of serving both villages. What they didn’t understand was the mentality of the denizens of these two villages.
The First War
The railway halt was officially named as “Waskaduwa” and no doubt with a little bit of pomp and ceremony.
It didn’t take very long for the populace of Pothupitiya to object to this sleight on their village in violent fashion, descending on the station and setting fire to the offending sign. Their argument was that this was “their” station and situated in their village and therefore should have been named “Pothupitiya”.
Feelings were running high when the railway authorities, in their great wisdom, then decided to re-name the halt as “Pothupitiya”. If they expected this to defuse the situation, then they were seriously mistaken. They obviously didn’t know the villagers of Waskaduwa that well!
The villagers of Waskaduwa saw red! Surely, the train halt was in their village! Not in Pothupitiya. That’s why the Railway Authorities decided it should be named Waskaduwa in the first place!
More violent scenes then took place.
After the populace of Waskaduwa had had their say in the form of burning the “Pothupitiya” sign, the rail authorities decided to play it safe and renamed the halt as “Waskaduwa Pothupitiya” in the hope of appeasing both parties.
Brilliant thinking and possibly Colonial thinking; but then the natives, as they say, were revolting! In more ways than one!
The inhabitants of Pothupitiya immediately and violently demanded that the halt be re-named as “Pothupitiya Waskaduwa” and giving priority to their village in the name order.
Things then oscillated between Waskaduwa Pothupitiya, Pothupitiya Waskaduwa, Waskaduwa Pothupitiya, Pothupitiya Waskaduwa, Waskaduwa Pothupitiya, Pothupitiya Waskaduwa,….Doesn’t even rhyme and doesn’t even sound like the sound of a clattering train.
After a lot of clashes and vandalism, in their exasperation, the Ceylon Government Railway once again re-named the halt, this time as “Train Halt No 1”.
This name remains to this day.
A lot of Wakaduwians and Pothupitiyans were then seen sheepishly creeping to the newly re-named station for the actual purpose of catching trains, rather than that of vandalising the station.
If the good old British were still running our railway they would have said: It was all to do with the Wrong Type of People!
Reporting from The Front!
In order to give readers an update on the present situation on the warfront, I visited this station fairly soon after I returned to the Old Republic.
The tracks have been doubled in recent times and the signalling updated to colour lights on this stretch but not many rush hour trains stop here. The halt itself looks rather forlorn and is badly maintained with the famous name board off its moorings and lying on the platform.
Curious tourists, attracted by the station sign, cross over from the nearby hotel to take pictures.
Looking around the platform a female tourist, in an ill-fitting and totally inappropriate bikini, pointed at the sign and asked me in Swedish what it was all about. I don’t speak Swedish but I knew what she was talking about. I just pointed to the station master and tapped the side of my head; the universal sign for craziness. She nodded her head in sympathy and in understanding.
I don’t think the Station Master liked it at all!
Waskaduwa-Pothupitiya War II
Looking for some locals to interview I found old Arnolis Aiya who was sitting outside the station busily doing nothing. He was from Waskaduwa and proud of that, so he said. He also happened to be a veteran of the First Waskaduwa-Pothupitiya War, or should that be the Pothupitiya-Waskaduwa War.
He said that the whole problem was that the Pothupitiyans were bullocks (Harak). He then went on to say that all Pothupitiyans were the sons of jackals. The sons of jackals ending up as bullocks, is a biological impossibility, but I let that pass.
A stream of red betel spit landed close to Arnolis and I realised we had company. The originator of the spit was a man of the same vintage as Arnolis, and with the same dress sense, namely a faded sarong half tucked. It was obvious that he was a Pothupitiyan.
He referred to Arnolis, as a “Rancid Polecat born out of wedlock”.
I looked around me uneasily as these two veterans were trading insults and realised that a rather sinister looking gang of three-wheelers had manifested. In addition, two formidable looking females strode in briskly and purposefully.
The entry of women into any dispute can only mean one thing, escalation! Sure enough, one of these spat at old Arnolis without introducing herself.
Arnolis in his turn called her something unmentionable and said something about her profession which I again decline to mention.
I realised it was time to ride off and make myself scarce. Although it was a scorchingly hot day, I started walking rather briskly to get as far away as possible from Waskaduwa-Pothupitiya.
Authors note: The last section of this article is pure fiction on my part.
Copyright Gyan C A Fernando 2013
First published in the Lanka Railway Digest